What goes around comes around?

Ethical behaviour should be driven by a desire to do what’s right

EVA TSAHURIDU By EVA TSAHURIDU
Behaving ethically is not a shield against unfair treatment
Behaving ethically is not a shield against unfair treatment

Ethical behaviour should be driven by a desire to do what’s right. It is no guarantee that others will behave ethically towards us.In many mythologies and religions, a virtuous life is considered difficult while a life of vice is considered easy. This makes sense. Behaving in accordance with our ethical values usually requires moral courage.

But there is also a fairly common view that if we are good to others and do the right thing, then other people will be good to us. This view assumes that there is some form of equilibrium between what we do and what happens to us: what goes around comes around.

We generally expect that if we have behaved ethically, in the public interest and for the common good, then even if we are not rewarded, surely we shouldn’t be punished.

However, we hear from many people who have acted with integrity and even in line with their organisation’s espoused values, that they have been victimised and suffered as a consequence. They think this is unfair. If what goes around comes around, then surely they shouldn’t be treated this way.

Behaving ethically requires moral motivation. 

We need to look at why we behave ethically in the first place. Is it because our values and judgements motivate us to do so, or is it because we don’t want bad things to happen to us?

Well, we know that behaving ethically does not provide any assurance that others will behave ethically towards us. It is not a shield against unfair treatment.

We have many examples of people who suffer as a consequence of doing what is right. Many have lost their jobs and find it hard to find other employment since they cannot secure glowing references.

Behaving ethically requires moral motivation.

The question, “Why should I do the right thing?” cannot really be answered by, “If I do not, bad things will happen to me.”

Rather, we should do what we think is right based on our values, our duties towards others and the consequences of our actions on others.

Dr Eva Tsahuridu is CPA Australia’s policy adviser, professional standards and governance.

 

This article is from the July 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.

 

 

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